Andy Naselli recently posted a review of John Frame’s The Doctrine of the Christian Life by Douglas Moo. If Moo or Frame write a book, I tend to purchase it and attempt to read it. I found it interesting, therefore to read a review by the one of a book by the other. I also found surprising , given the influence of both of these authors on my own thinking, the amount of disagreement highlighted by Moo.
My thoughts on their disagreements are as follows:
I find myself more in agreement with Frame than with Moo in the section on Sola Scriptura. Having read a fair bit on natural law in the past few months I’m convinced that Van Til and Frame have a very high view of natural law that comports well with Paul’s use of it in Romans while at the same time recognizing the limitations and difficulties of natural law argumentation. Frame in DCL demonstrates quite easily that certain natural law arguments divorced from Scripture are fairly unconvincing (the Roman Catholic arguments against contraception are the example that come most readily to mind). Moo wonders if the Van Tillian/Framian approach will cripple efforts in the public square. Frame does address that point: he notes that when speaking in the public square, one need not cite Scripture to make one’s arguments; his point was simply that a Christian should be dubious about natural law arguments for ethical positions if those positions lack support in Scripture. Also in response to Moo one could note that natural law arguments are often not given any more respect in the public square than Scripture arguments. [For two recent articles that address these issues, see Paul D. Miller, “Christ and Culture: Engaging the World,” The City (Summer 2011): 39-57; Dan Strange, “Not Ashamed! The Sufficiency of Scripture for Public Theology,” Themelios 36, no. 2 (Aug 2011): 238-60.]
Regarding adiaphora, I find myself in sympathy with Frame’s general direction. Moo’s caveat is significant, but I think Christians would be better served by approaching their lives in general as if large categories of adiaphora did not exist. In other words, Moo may be more technically correct, but the general attitude that Frame’s approach fosters may be more fruitful.
Regarding William Webb, I am in firm agreement with Frame. I find it surprising, and even disturbing, that so many top evangelical NT scholars praise Webb’s problematic approach. Frame is correct that "Webb’s approach violates the authority of Scripture . . . , since it allows us to do what Scripture forbids, and denies the sufficiency of Scripture . . . , since it requires us to find ultimate principles of ethics outside of Scripture—principles of authority equal to or greater than those of Scripture" (641). One could add that Webb’s view also profoundly misunderstands why the transitions that do take place from Old Covenant to New Covenant did take place. These systematic theology issues must be reckoned with before Webb’s hermeneutical proposals can be seriously entertained. Moo raises his own set of questions to Frame: "Why, since the biblical writers explicitly speak to Christian slave owners about their responsibilities, do they not simply forbid Christians to own slaves? Were the biblical writers suddenly overcome with a case of “cultural cowardice,” reluctant to tackle a moral evil because it was so deeply rooted in their culture? Or were the biblical writers themselves not fully aware of the implications of the principles they themselves enunciated?" It seems that these questions are more easily answered than the theological questions raised about Webb’s approach. Second, Frame does offer some brief answers to Moo’s questions. In his discussion of Greco-Roman slavery (658-60) Frame notes that it was not cultural cowardice but lack of cultural power that caused Christians not to tackle the problem of slavery in the first century. Frame also implies that it may be that early Christians were not fully aware of the implications of their principles. Related to this, it must be granted that the horrors of slavery may be more thoroughly impressed on the modern mind than on the ancient mind. There is also the ethical issue of how to deal with systemic injustice. Are there times when one tries to mitigate the evil rather than seek (fruitlessly) to eliminate it immediately. What would the effects be of all Christians freeing their slaves immediately? Would they have been better than all Christians beginning to treat their slaves as image bearers of God? In other words, the slavery question raises complicated issues, but other answers than Webb’s theologically problematic hermeneutic are available.
On issues of Frame’s use of the law and the Decalogue, I find myself divided. I am in greater agreement with Moo’s framework for how the law relates to the new covenant believer than with Frame’s. In other words, I agree with Moo that the Mosaic law is not binding on the new covenant believer. He is not under that covenant. And yet within that framework, I think that Frame’s insistence on the continuing relevance of the OT law is important. It seems to me that the NT authors do make a great deal of use of the OT law in orienting Christians to their responsibilities. It seems that an understanding of both the OT law and the redemptive-historical transformations are necessary for Christians to develop the mind of Christ in all sorts of areas not directly addressed in Scripture.
I am similarly sympathetic with Moo’s criticism of Frame’s attempt to root all ethical commands in the Decalogue. However, the fact that some OT scholars think that other parts of the law, especially Deuteronomy, follow the outline of the Decalogue in broad strokes prevents me from entirely dismissing the approach of Frame and the tradition in which he stands. In regards to the appropriateness of the Decalogue as a framework for NT ethics, the Decalogue overall focuses broadly on commands that remain valid across the convents. In this way it seems similar to the two greatest commandments. Thus while largely agreeing with Moo’s approach to law issues, I’m willing to value and benefit from Reformed authors who use the Decalogue as a framework for NT ethics.
Finally, Moo criticizes Frame for his focus on the normative perspective. On the one hand, there is little that I would want to see cut from Frame’s 1,000+ page book. If anything some of his discussions could be expanded; some sections would make worthy books in their own right. Nonetheless, even Frame would have to admit the deficiency of examining ethics primarily from one of his three perspectives. A volume by Frame or in sympathy with his approach that examined ethics from the existential and situational perspectives would therefore be most welcome.
Robert C. Owens says
I thoroughly enjoyed read the wide range of thoughts on the different Books and articles.
Hopefully you may be able to help me get some reference(s)and the meaning to the term “EXEGESIS”, how it’s used in conjunction with the BIBLE.
Daniel Heimbach says
This is to let you know I will be presenting another critical examination of Frame’s triperspectival method at ETS 2016 meeting next month in San Antonio. My paper is titled: “The Trinitarian Nature of Biblical Bioethics: A Theological Corrective to Frame’s Philosophical Paradigm.” Hope you can be there. Daniel Heimbach, Senior Professor of Christian Ethics, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.